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Uniqlo, Inditex, SMCP and Skechers accused of profiting from the forced labour of Uighurs

By Don-Alvin Adegeest



Image: Xinjiang cotton via Ecotextile

On the eve of China’s 100th year anniversary celebration of its Chinese Communist Party, France launched an investigation into the “concealment of crimes against humanity” by global textile giants, including Inditex and Uniqlo, who stand accused of having profited from the forced labour of Uighurs.

France’s National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) followed a complaint filed in early April by NGOs targeting Uniqlo France and its Japanese parent company Fast Retailing, Inditex (which owns the Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti brands), SMCP (which owns Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot and De Fursac) and the sports shoemaker Skechers. The complaint was filed in Paris by the anti-corruption association Sherpa, the Ethique sur Etiquette collective, the Uyghur Institute of Europe, as well as by an Uighur woman who was interned in the province of Xinjiang.

“This is a first, this investigation will necessarily create a legal risk and additional accountability for all those who, with complete impunity, thought they could import into France in order to enrich themselves, resources and products at the cost of tears and blood,” William Bourdon, the plaintiff’s lawyer told the Le Monde newspaper.

Sandra Cossart, director of Sherpa, said the investigation “testifies to the potential involvement of economic actors in the commission of the most serious crimes in order to increase their profit margins. It is nevertheless important not to limit oneself to the few actors targeted here: a system of legal provisions makes these practices possible every day.”

SMCP responded via a press release in France stating it “strongly refuted these accusations,” expressing its wish to “fully cooperate with the investigation to demonstrate that they are false.” The Inditex group said that “rigorous traceability checks had been carried out within the group,” and that they “made it possible to verify that the allegations arising from this complaint [were] unfounded.” The group claims to apply “zero tolerance towards any form of forced labour” and to have established “procedures to ensure that this practice does not exist in [its] supply chain.”

The associations are part of a series of initiatives launched around the world by human rights defenders in favour of the Uighurs. The fate of this mainly Muslim, Turkish-speaking minority who represents just under half of Xinjiang’s 25 million inhabitants, is the subject of an increasingly heated confrontation between the West and China.

Several countries, including the United States, speak of “genocide” and NGOs accuse Beijing of having interned more than a million Uighurs since 2017 in political re-education centers.

China’s communist regime denies this figure and claims that they are “vocational training centers” intended to alienate the Uighurs from Islamism and separatism, after a series of attacks attributed to them.

Global brands made statements denouncing Xinjiang cotton

Several international fashion and sportswear companies including Japanese Uniqlo, Swedish H&M, American Nike and German Adidas, pledged last year to boycott cotton from Xinjiang. Their pledges fell futile when local Chinese brand ambassadors publicly denounced their associations with any brand speaking ill of China, warranted or not.

The complaints filed iterate the “concealment of the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity,” based mainly on a report published in March 2020 by the NGO Australian Strategic Policy Institute to substantiate suspicions of the marketing of clothing or shoes made in whole or in part in factories where Uighurs are subjected to forced labour.

The associations believe the targeted companies have not made sufficient efforts to ensure that their contractors are not involved in the persecution of Uighurs.

Article source: Le Monde